Bizarre and unbelievable – though that's rather not the point - 'Dean Spanley' is among the oddest films of 2008.
Set in a faithfully rendered if somewhat flat Edwardian London, it tells the story of the male members of the Fisk family - the middle-aged Young Fisk (Northam) and the aged Old Fisk (O'Toole) - and their strange encounter with Dean Spanley (Neill).
Spanley is a vicar with whom Young Fisk strikes up a relationship principally based on rare wine and the Dean's half remembered previous life as a dog. Seriously.
Their odd friendship begins when Fisk meets the Dean at a talk on the transmigration of souls given by an Indian mystic. Fisk subsequently entices the Dean to his house with the promise of Imperial Tokay, a difficult to obtain sweet wine of which the Dean is very fond.
At dinner, it emerges that the Dean can slip into waking reverie in which he can remember quite well, and answer questions about, his previous life as a faithful hound. As things transpire, there are hints that this past life is bound up with the Fisk family tragedy - the death of Young Fisk's brother in the Boer War.
It's odd stuff, but the closing sequence undeniably packs a bit of emotional wallop with O'Toole in typically bright eyed, passionate form.
But it's a decidedly weird film - adapted from a story by the eccentric early 20th century Irish writer Lord Dunsany - and suffers from dragging quite a bit in the early stages.
In the end, the weirdness is not the problem – it's almost refreshing. It's the top heavy story, with the film only gaining pace and a sense drama very late in the day, that makes this a bit of a chore.